50 Greatest Carols

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This month's BBC Music Magazine (Dec 08) contains a fascinating piece on the "50 Greatest Carols." Over fifty choir directors from some of the prestigious cathedrals and music schools in Britain were asked to choose their top five. There are some relatively unknown carols (sung largely by cathedral choirs perhaps but not by the likes of Carl). Coming in at fifth place was a 16th century Coventry carol, Lully, Lulla which was new to me.  The British composer Herbert Howells's setting of A Spotless Rose is also relatively unfamiliar, Howells is an unbeliever and the music came to him while he was watching trains shunting on the Bristol-Gloucester line! In fiftieth place was Away in the Manger, with its Apollinarian second stanza ("no crying he makes"). Joy to the World only managed 48th place. Silent Night came in at 25. Hark the Herald Angels Sing was 14th. Once in Royal David's City (which I would place at the top) came in 11th. 

And number 1?  In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti and music by Harold Darke. "Does any other carol get at the heart of Christmas as understatedly but effectively as In the Bleak Midwinter? Christian Rossetti's 1876 poem is "nigh-on perfect as a carol text," with its "What shall I give him?" moment of reflection.  

Posted December 12, 2008 @ 11:29 AM by Derek Thomas

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